In my itty-bitty rural hometown, there is a recent phenomenon occurring that has been plaguing my every waking thought. I cannot escape it. It’s everywhere. It’s on every Instagram page, Facebook wall, and Snapchat story — and obnoxiously sparkling on my old classmates’ left ring finger. 

Marriage. Even the thought of it makes me shudder. Each weekend I brace myself for yet another celebration of love announcement, which I interpret to be a kiss of death. 

Allow me to give you, lovely and (hopefully) unbetrothed reader, an explanation as to why I am so bitter about something I should be congratulating my peers for. 

I grew up in a little town called Dyersville, Iowa, whose only claims to fame are the Catholic Basilica of St. Francis Xavier and the field from the 1989 film, “Field of Dreams,” which sits on a road named after my family, acknowledging their original ownership of the site (my only flex over baseball fans). Everyone in town knows one another, to the point  that my parents have often joked that I cannot marry anyone from Dyersville — because we’re probably related. 

The natural progression of life in Dyersville and the surrounding area usually goes as follows: You are born with huge dreams, go to school with every other student within the school district for your entire life, start dating someone in high school, then develop a substance abuse problem and realize your dreams are impossible to achieve in the middle of nowhere. So you decide to settle on nursing or agriculture, go to one of the several in-state colleges with your high school sweetheart and about a quarter of your graduating class, and hope to get  a bachelor’s and an MRS degree. 

I have watched many of my peers experience every step of this progression. By the age of only 17, every person I had dated previously was engaged. Every. Single. One. This phenomenon has infested my brain and dominated the conversation every time I call home — “Why is everyone moving so damn fast?” 

The only logical answer to this question has caused others to dub me as a “crazy feminist,” “social justice warrior,” or “melodramatic,” but I ask you to hear me out. 

The reason these women are throwing away their dreams for screaming babies, poopy diapers, and subpar husbands who believe in outdated gender roles is because they have realized how difficult happiness is to achieve in a patriarchal, rural community.

These women, like myself, have been primed for their impending marriages we have dreamed of since our  kindergarten classrooms. We dreamed so big, wanting to be president, princess, and in my case, famous. While the adults in our lives encouraged these dreams, we began to realize our mothers encouraged our dreams because they did not follow through with their own. They too got married before the societal clock began ticking, reminding them that once you hit 30, your value as a woman practically disappears into thin air. 

I believe that this realization that most women in our lives have given up on their original hopes and dreams is similar to the concept of the “death” of girlhood. As we come of age, we leave the role of the hopeful young girl and are thrust into the role of a woman. Again, the duty of women in a heteronormative rural community is typically to support the men in their lives. In an agricultural setting, this makes sense — the man works outside in the fields, the women maintain the house and children, supporting the man to ensure he continues to put food on the table. Ideally, this is a team effort. 

What I see happening instead is women setting aside their passions and settling for something more achievable — something that won’t attract negative attention from the community: marriage and motherhood. Becoming a wife and mother is the ultimate goal from there on out, and that needs to happen before their “value” as women vanishes. Gotta get that ring, and then you’re safe. 

But that ring leads to marriage before the age of 26, when your brain is finished developing. I am currently 20, and I feel the pressure from my community to pop out a few kids already (and from 800 plus miles away).  I change my mind about the clothes I wear at least three times a day, so I cannot even fathom picking a singular person to spend my entire life with right now. Nor do I trust myself to pick a man of value; after all, my most recent ex was an unemployed Soundcloud rapper (and I’d still say he was a much better partner than my classmates’ spouses). 

Being a childless person who still cannot legally partake in drinking alcoholic beverages is somehow an act of protest against the status quo of Dubuque County, Iowa. I feel nervous to speak against this “speed-running” of life because my own friends have made the very decisions I could never see for myself, all the while complaining about how much they actually hate their spouses. 

It isn’t meant to be a slight, and I don’t mean to be bitter, but marriage and children are extremely permanent decisions. I only worry because I see the women I love and support following in the footsteps of our mothers. I don’t want to see the women who helped me through the trials and tribulations of adolescence simply settle down with the first man who bothers to look at her and pays her a compliment only after she begs for it. 

It hurts me to watch my friend who wished to become a professional singer buy a house in the middle of nowhere and settle down with some random guy with a receding hairline in his twenties. 

The worst of it all is realizing that they are falling back into the cycle of rural communities. They too will have daughters with big dreams, but will their daughters be able to break out of it?

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